Tightening Up The System

Shepherdsville invests in quality people and takes the fast track to SSO reduction.
Tightening Up The System
The Shepherdsville team includes, from left, Matt Noe, vac operator; Johny Clan, collections maintenance tech; Chuck Keith, wastewater superintendent; Rocky Price, collections maintenance tech; Scott Fleming, public utilities director; Pat Welch, treatment plant maintenance tech; Jeremy Keith, collections maintenance tech; and Tom Lafollete, fog program coordinator.

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Shepherdsville, Ky., is about 20 miles south of Louisville, just west of I-65. The Salt River, a tributary of the Ohio River, flows right through the area. The city had been plagued by SSOs, and was under a consent decree to reduce them. The Shepherdsville Sewer Department, headed by Wastewater Treatment Department Superintendent Chuck Keith and Public Utility Director Scott Fleming, did just that.

“We had this decree to reduce our SSOs, and we knew we had a problem,” says Fleming. “Fortunately, City Hall was backing us, and the mayor and council gave us the budget we needed to fix the problem.”

QK4, an engineering and consulting firm serving the Louisville area for over 40 years, was retained early on in the process. They partnered with Shepherdsville in 1999, when initial negotiations with the EPA were underway.

The problem was I&I, according to QK4. Fleming recounts how the solution required installation of interceptor lines, upgrades to their treatment plant and lift stations, and manhole rehab. A large area with septic systems also had to be eliminated.

Fleming is also quick to point out that, of the three SSOs in the last 14 months, two of them were triggered by I&I from pipes left open and exposed by developers.

New interceptors

A large part of the solution was the construction of two new 36-inch interceptor lines. The most recent, in 2012, eliminated eight lift stations. “Five of those stations were very problematic and were essentially bottlenecks in the system,” explains Rob Campbell, consulting engineer and assistant VP of QK4. “They contributed to the SSO problem we were hired to solve.

“That interceptor is gravity-flow all the way to the influent pump station at the treatment plant. So we had to build that influent pump station to handle the capacity of the interceptor.”

Eliminating eight lift stations with a gravity-flow line involved a lot of digging in tough clay and shale soil, with a fair amount of bedrock. QK4 handled the engineering, ensuring all the details (slope, capacity, trench depth, water table) meshed, and the pipe functioned as needed.

“The first 36-inch interceptor was built in 2010 to increase the capacity to the south of Shepherdsville,” Campbell says. “It was also designed to take on the effluent from the Jim Beam distillery so they could eliminate their onsite treatment plant.”

The distillery is the “home plant” for Jim Beam, and it was putting out close to 180,000 gpd of organic sludge byproducts. “Just like you smell
chocolate in the air around Hershey, Pa., in Shepherdsville you smell sour mash in the air,” Fleming says.

Prior to the 2008 economic downturn, the area south of Shepherdsville was growing at a rate much higher than the rest of the state. The 2010 interceptor was being planned and funded at that time. Despite subsiding growth, the project carried through under its own momentum. “So we’re ready for new growth whenever the economy picks back up,” Fleming says. “In fact, we’re already starting to see some of that as permits come in. But it’s more commercial than residential at this point.”

Fighting I&I

Whatever the origin of I&I, there was the additional problem of system capacity. “Those lift stations were throttling back the flow,” Fleming says. “Combine that with I&I from bad manholes and other sources, and you’ve got a real problem.”

Campbell says the city would like to eliminate all those lift stations. They’re dealing with 30 of them at present, and eyeballing a couple more they know they can eliminate. They intend to get that work into the next capital plan.

“As this town built out, we assembled a real patchwork of lift stations and pipes,” Fleming adds. “But when you get big enough, you can start eliminating some of those weak links. And those lift stations are definitely weak links.”

Shepherdsville is just now starting the CIPP process, with UV curing, on some of their older pipe. Those pipes are a mix of PVC, ductile iron and clay, with diameters from 6 to 36 inches. Some date back to 1960, and that includes their oldest manholes.

Manholes, as usual, were part of the I&I problem. With 2,100 manholes in their system, many as old as 53 years, they all had to be inspected for leaks and obstructions. Different methods, from cleaning to spray-on epoxy to total replacement, were required. To get the job done in a timely manner, much of that work was farmed out. Proximity to Louisville provides access to a lot of contractors, and promotes competitive bidding.

Shepherdsville is also building a GIS using the ESRI package. Again, to move the work along, data acquisition was farmed out to Brad Armstrong Land Surveying, a firm in nearby Lebanon Junction, Ky. That work is proceeding well, with about 20 percent of data entry completed.

Finally, Shepherdsville is seeking more control over developer practices. “In the past, the process of having someone sign off before new pipe was buried was not as well-enforced as it could have been,” Fleming says. 

What worked for Shepherdsville

The capital improvements went a long way toward solving the SSO problem, and there’s still a lot of work in progress, but things are proceeding nicely. “We’re happy to be where we are at this point,” Fleming says. “But we’re not done yet.

“Much of it will be preventive maintenance. You’ve got to get out there and video those pipes, inspect your manholes, make sure your restaurants are on a good FOG program –  it’s just preventive maintenance in a nutshell.”

In discussing the keys to their success, Fleming and Campbell offer a litany of best practices.

“You have to surround yourself with educated and capable people, like our treatment plant Superintendent Chuck Keith and others,” Fleming says. “I’ve been able to do that with the support and budget from the mayor and city council. That’s how we could hire firms like QK4 and Brad Armstrong and benefit from their expertise. And that’s also why we can draw on our base of local contractors. We’ve got a great network of talent available.”

Campbell adds, “We were able to leverage some positive financial circumstances including good growth in bad times; commerce from Louisville, which is a hub for UPS; state level and ARRA funding; and a bonus in the form of a base realignment for Fort Knox, which along with Shepherdsville is in Bullitt County. That alone could add $300 million in payroll to the local economy with new Army personnel arriving.

“The city also made the tough decision to set rates at a point where the sewer department could function. Rates are always controversial, but enough people had the fortitude to make that happen, and it definitely paid dividends.”

Ongoing efforts

Shepherdsville is now launching a website to educate the community about what is being done to ensure continued, safe and reliable system operation. With their reduced SSOs, the public is already aware of improvements. With education, the public should be more tolerant of rate increases. It’s the best of all worlds when you have both City Hall and your customers backing your efforts.

With a full-time staff of only 10, and doing most of their work in-house, they’ve managed to accomplish what few municipalities can claim. They’ve beat their consent decree timeline by several years. And their staff was no small part of that success.

“Six of our people are both PACP and MACP certified, and these are relatively new hires,” Fleming says. “So continuing education is something we’re pushing with them right now.”

This is the first year in the business for three of their personnel, but the other seven share a combined total of 85 man-years of experience. Turnover is always an issue, but the team has remained a coherent unit producing quality results.

Meeting requirements

The decree is still on the books, and Shepherdsville still has the same timeline and requirements, but they no longer need to file quarterly reports. Proper documentation of operational planning and activities was also part of that agreement, and that is ongoing. There will, of course, be periodic visits to confirm compliance.

The EPA agreement specifically addressed Shepherdsville’s SSO problem. A hundred SSOs per year was unacceptable, and everyone knew that. “I never expected we’d meet that agreement as quickly as we did when I first took this job,” Fleming says. “But it all came together for us.”

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